Famous for their style, elegance and chic tastes in fashion, Italians take their attire and public image very seriously. Although it’s usually the major events like Fashion Week in Milan which dominate the international headlines, everyday life in Italy can often feel like an open air catwalk!
Both men and women in Italy dress their best whether they’re at home, on the beach or sauntering through a piazza in the evening after dinner. One of the ideas that underpins this culture of looking good is known as ‘la bella figura’. This is a central concept in Italian society and celebrates beauty, elegance and healthy living.
What Is La Bella Figura?
‘La bella Figura’ literally translates as ‘the beautiful figure’ and although it refers in part to the physical appearance of a man or woman it also has deeper connotations.
La bella figura includes a desire to live a healthy life by eating a good diet and spending plenty of time outdoors enjoying the natural beauty of Italy’s scenery. La bella figure is also connected to the idea of having respect for yourself and others by dressing well and taking the time to think about your style.
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La bella figura is all about making a great impression with people and helping every event in life, whether large or small, to be as special as possible. In fact, it could be argued that la bella figure is an essential component of the Dolce Vita, or the ‘sweet life’!
For these reasons, la bella figura is an important, if often unspoken, part of the Italian way of life and whether you’re a tourist or Expat in the country you should try to incorporate it into your own lifestyle.
A Way Of Life Not A One Off Event.
In many parts of the Western world people only dress up when they’re attending a special event such as a wedding, birthday party or family reunion. However, in Italy, nothing could be further from the truth and you’ll regularly see women wearing trendy heels and high fashion attire while grocery shopping or visiting the Post Office.
Similarly, men often wear a loose fitting suit to the beach instead of shorts and a t-shirt and in the evening you’ll see Italians, both male and female, dressed as if they’re attending a formal event while strolling through the streets.
For Italians, la bella figura is about much more than just looking good because it’s also about personal dignity and social respect. In fact, in one sense, dressing well is a way of being polite to others around you; a way of understanding fashion and dress codes that is almost unknown in most other parts of Europe and the United States. It is important for expats or tourists to understand this aspect of Italian life.
Does Age Matter For La Bella Figura?
In Italy, no matter how old or young you are there are still certain expectations for you to dress well. The word ‘bella’ means ‘beautiful’ but it also means ‘proper’, in the sense of doing the right thing.
For example, a young woman would rarely turn up to her university lecture dressed in flip flops and sweatpants – unlike many European and American students who take their appearance far less seriously! Equally, older women dress appropriately to their age with dignity and grace. These are considered to be the proper ways to dress and are widely thought to present the correct public decorum.
La Brutta Figura – Avoid It At All Costs.
Of course, every coin has a flip side and the other side of la bella figura is ‘la brutta figura’. La brutta figura literally means ‘the ugly figure’ although it more accurately translates as giving a bad impression or being disrespectful.
Italians are very sensitive to making a great impression with other people and so avoid la brutta figura at all costs.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Italians are even more conscious of not making a bad public impression in villages and small towns than they are in the major cities, however no matter where you go in Italy you should avoid la brutta figura.
In most parts of the world other people are very hesitant about criticizing other people’s appearance but in Italy you won’t find this is the case. If you don’t take proper care of appearance and dress in a sloppy way you might well have complete strangers commenting on your attire!
So if you want to fit in while you’re in Italy then you should make sure that you dress well, show the proper respect for yourself and others and try your best to be the perfect manifestation of la bella figura in your daily life.
Tips For Women – How To Dress Like An Italian.
The following are some of my tips on how to dress like an Italian.
Combine Minimal Colors In Your Outfit.
The use of minimalist color schemes in Italian dress is one of the things that makes it chic and elegant. Neutral, often muted, colors are combined to create harmonious outfits that are ideal for daily streetwear, the office or an evening meal in a high class restaurant.
Versatility is an important part of dressing like an Italian and women often wear pantsuits, long coats or flowing dresses; once again, in solid neutral colors. Of course these outfits can be accessorized with stand out jewelry, a carefully chosen designer handbag or a bright print scarf although these shouldn’t be too loud or they will take away from the overall harmony of the clothes.
Be Prepared To Invest On Top Quality Basics.
Top quality premium basics are well made items that never go out of style. For women, these items can include blouses, shirts, skirts, dresses, traditionally styled shoes and other basics which can be worn with a whole range of different outfits.
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Premium basics are not overly stylized but due to the high quality of the items they still have an impressive effect on the overall outfit. These items are durable and ideal for regular, day to day use while being comfortable and timeless. This means that even as trends in fashion change you’ll still be able to wear these classic items so it’s worth investing in the best quality that you possibly can.
In Italy, there are many small tailors that you can visit who can make personalized premium basics to perfectly match your wardrobe and style. Since these items can be worn year round and will survive changes in fashion they have a great cost-per-wear value compared to a dress you may only wear once or twice in your life! This goes to show that Italian women choose their wardrobe in a cost effective way without sacrificing style or elegance in the process.
Dress For The Catwalk Every Day!
Each new day is an opportunity to stand out with high fashion items and really make your mark so think carefully and plan your outfits ahead of time. Although you will want to keep most of your daily outfit in neutral colors while wearing top quality basic items you can still achieve high fashion with carefully selected signature items incorporated into your outfit.
This is one of the easiest ways to effortlessly tie your neutral outfit together while showing your own personal flair and tastes with the one or two signature items in your ensemble. So never be afraid of throwing on a bright print scarf, an elegant hat or some stunning high heels before you head down to the shops to pick up your weekly groceries!
Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize.
Italian women accessorize their outfits with simple items that really stand out. For example, a matching set of earrings and necklace will give a neutral outfit that extra flair without being gaudy while a haute couture heels or a designer purse will effortlessly achieve a great impact.
The accessories that you chose are deeply personal and although they won’t steal the show they are an indispensable part of the Italian sense of style. Italy is the perfect place to find great accessories because it’s not only world famous for the quality and craftsmanship of its leather products but it’s also well known for its elegant jewelry.
So when you’re putting your Italian inspired outfit together you can create a beautifully sophisticated look with a few well chosen accessories that bring your smart neutral ensemble to life.
Generally Speaking, Go For Full Coverage.
Of course it’s fine to wear clothes that subtly accentuate your features, and Italian women certainly do this, however, in general, to achieve la bella figura you want to opt more for full coverage than a lot of exposed skin. This partly has its roots in the traditional Catholic culture of Italy but it’s also considered to give a bad impression if you expose too much skin in your dress code.
Italian women tend to wear clothes that don’t expose a lot of skin with items such as turtleneck jumpers, long dresses and coats, pantsuits, shirts and skirts making up the mainstay of their wardrobes. This is particularly true in the winter months when temperatures can get quite cold but even in the summer months Italian women will usually opt for loose fitting items that are not overly daring or skimpy.
La Bella Figura Embodies The Concept Of ‘Less Is More’.
Italians have shown that ‘less is more’ really can be true. This minimalist concept is incorporated into the Italian sense of style and is suitable for any occasion; from attending a church service or a dinner party to popping down to the shops to get the milk.
Remember, you don’t need to dress in a loud or provocative way to stand out as a local fashion icon! Part of the chic style of la bella figura is the understated elegance that is highlighted with well chosen accessories such as a bright printed scarf or a lovely pair of earrings.
Using the basic principles of Italian fashion can really transform your sense of fashion and while you’re in the country as an Expat or tourist you can pick up some superb items to compliment your wardrobe.